When I was eight I was given a train set. I wanted a Scalextric. I dutifully set it up in order to avoid looking like the spoilt child I actually was. Twenty minutes later I stopped playing with it and went back to the Atari. So was I really the best person to get the golden ticket to take the glorious 1898-built steam engine, the Met Locomotive No 1 as it recreated history by travelling along the Hammersmith and City line from Kensington (Olympia) to Moorgate to celebrate the Underground’s 150th anniversary? What if I wanted to go and play on my Atari after 20 minutes and couldn’t get out? As it turned out I had nothing to fear.
From the moment the gorgeous train chuff-chuffed its way into sight, spewing great plumes of steam into the cold morning air, to the end of the magical subterranean adventure forty minutes later, I was utterly spellbound and a little overwhelmed by the whole experience. I was sat in the immaculately restored Chesham carriages which were on kind loan from the Bluebell Railway in Sussex for this very special occasion and as we made our way through the tunnels it was impossible not to fall in love with the romanticism and sheer beauty of this stunning, elegant, spluttering beast.
The attention to detail of the original craftsmen and women (and of those who have taken part in the amazing restoration of these vehicles) was breathtaking and it was almost impossible not to find yourself saying repeatedly ‘Ooh they don’t make ‘em like they used to, do they!’ Hundreds of fanatical rail enthusiasts lined the route to take a picture and catch a whiff of this sulphurous iron dragon as it filled each station along the route with a dense industrial fog.
Although there are many events planned over this year to celebrate the tube’s first 150 years it is hard to imagine that anything will top the incredible sight, sound and smell of this glorious underground pioneer. Scalextric? Pah! Now where did I put that train set? Tim Arthur
Read more about the Tube’s big birthday.